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Study shows majority of researchers are participating in public engagement

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2 December 2015

PE 160

Eight in 10 (82 per cent) researchers carried out at least one form of public engagement in the past year, according to a new study launched today at the Engage conference in Bristol. The study Factors affecting public engagement by researchers was commissioned by a consortium of 15 UK research funders and Universities UK, led by the Wellcome Trust.

The study found that participation in public engagement was higher among researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) at 88 per cent, than in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at 78 per cent. AHSS researchers were also more likely to value it as a core component of their role (52 per cent compared to 37 per cent of STEM).

However since the last study into this area in 2006**, the number of STEM researchers who value public engagement as a core component of their role has risen from 28 to 37 per cent. The proportion of STEM researchers who would like to engage more with the public has also increased from 45 per cent to 53 per cent and they also feel better equipped to engage with the public than they did in 2006 (up from 51 per cent to 63 per cent).
64 per cent of researchers from all disciplines who have been in their careers for 10 years felt that encouragement from their institution had increased in the last decade.

Despite these changes there are still significant obstacles to researchers undertaking public engagement. Competing pressures on time emerged as the biggest barrier to researchers undertaking public engagement (61 per cent). Other barriers included difficulty accessing relevant opportunities (26 per cent) and insufficient funding (26 per cent).

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “I believe that it is vital for researchers to engage with audiences outside their research. The Wellcome Trust knows that public engagement is an integral part of the business of doing research and we welcome the contribution that this work provides in clarifying what we need to do next to take public engagement to the next level.”

Professor John Womersley, the Research Councils UK Public Engagement with Research Champion and Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Research Council, added: “Over the last 10 years, the Research Councils and other research funders have made significant investments to create a research culture where public engagement is better valued, recognised and supported. As a result, I’m delighted that researchers clearly now realise the benefits of engaging the public, especially through the value it can add in improving the quality of their research and report a significant increase in institutional support.”

Dame Julia Goodfellow, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent and President of Universities UK, which has supported the research programme funded by the Consortium, said: “We’re pleased about the commitment towards public engagement shown by the higher education sector. It is clear that attitudes have shifted but we recognise that more needs to be done. We look forward to discussing this with interested parties in 2016.”
The report ‘Factors affecting public engagement by researchers’ is available to read at www.wellcome.ac.uk/PERSurvey
 

Image credit: University of Bath

Notes to editors
For media enquiries please contact Natalie Hodgson on 020 7611 7290 / n.hodgson@wellcome.ac.uk
 

About the survey: The survey research covered the UK and was carried out between May and July 2015.  It comprised of a literature review to set the context for public engagement by researchers; a web survey of research staff of all disciplines working in universities, research institutes and clinical settings (2,454 responses and a response rate overall of 22 per cent); a separate web survey of public engagement enablers (staff who support and facilitate researchers in their PE activities) (269 responses and a response rate of 33 per cent) and qualitative research with 50 researchers and enablers to explore emerging issues in greater depth. The researcher survey covered all disciplines (science and engineering; medicine; the arts, humanities and social sciences).

The research was commissioned by a UK consortium of research funders. They are Wellcome Trust; Royal Society; British Academy; Royal Academy of Engineering; Academy of Medical Sciences; Royal Society of Chemistry; Research Councils UK; UK Funding Bodies (HEFCE, HEFCW, Scottish Funding Council and Department for Employment and Learning – Northern Ireland); Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Department for Health (National Institute for Health Research); Health and Care Research Wales, Welsh Government; and the Scottish Government. The project is also supported by Universities UK.

The research is being launched at the Engage conference in Bristol on 2 December 2015.  Engage is an international, annual event for public engagement practitioners.

*In the report public engagement is defined according to the RCUK’s 2010 Concordat for Engaging the public with research which emphasises the more two-way, dialogic, characteristics of public engagement as opposed to more information-based communication such as the media.
**The Consortium wanted to update its understanding gained from a survey of scientists and engineers, published by the Royal Society in 2006 and conducted with the support of Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust – Factors Affecting Science Communication by Scientists and Engineers. 
 

Source: Wellcome Press Release

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